THE WELDER SHORTAGE AND AN INDUSTRY-LED PROPOSAL TO TACKLE IT
Written by SEMMA CEO Vonda Fenwick.
SEMMA has developed an industry-led proposal to begin to tackle the current welder shortage hitting Australian industry. As anyone who has operated in the engineering/ sheet metal sector understands, Australian industry has suffered a severe shortage of suitably trained and skilled welders for more than 25 years. The reality of Australia’s construction led COVID recovery and the increased Defence focus over the coming years will increase demand for skilled welders exponentially.
A local company in the South East has 30 welders employed from the Philippines. The only thing preventing other manufacturers from reluctantly bringing in overseas workers currently is COVID- induced border restrictions.
Existing processes and ‘solutions’ are clearly not working. Weld Australia reports that welder training in Australia is outdated and underfunded and “the TAFE welding course and curriculum … bears no relation to what is actually required by industry”.
Apprenticeship training is not delivering the number of welders required: with a need for urgent action, manufacturers cannot wait for 3 years for welders to come on stream from their local TAFE.
Several years ago, unable to get experienced welders, one of our SEMMA Board members, Todd Hartley at Hilton Engineering, set up his own welding school for a time, running a short course welding programme, in order to produce the welders he needed. At the same time other companies were bringing in welders (some with questionable skill level!) from overseas on 457 visas.
SEMMA is now looking to re-establish the short course welding programme but this time to supply welders to SEMMA members and other key employers in the South East. We are looking to run a pilot programme for a model which we believe could ultimately be rolled out in Manufacturing hubs around the country.
For participants who complete the 150-hour welding programme jobs will be available within local industry. SEMMA has undertakings from employers ready to employ candidates who participate in the industry-led short course.
SEMMA’s proposed short course will equip participants to perform the work of “Class 2 Welders” – sufficient to meet an estimated 70+% of welding tasks required by manufacturers in the South East.
SME manufacturers in the South East do not employ welders on the basis of a TAFE or other certificate; they require a practical demonstration of the welder’s knowledge and skills. Insisting on a 3-year apprenticeship, at significant cost per apprentice to the Victorian Government, is NOT an industry driven solution.
The proposed SEMMA course will NOT produce welders with the competence and capability required of a submarine, aircraft or other high-skill welding role. However, it will equip participants to perform many welding tasks in manufacturing and can provide the foundation for subsequent development through appropriate standards-based, micro-courses to upskill them.
An initial EOI with SEMMA members received an overwhelming and rapid response; employers are desperate to fill welder vacancies and, the inability to find suitable staff has meant turning away work. In a time when governments at both State and Federal level are publicly talking up support for manufacturing it is tragic that manufacturers are unable to fill vacancies when unemployment in the South East is at above average levels. It is also extremely disappointing that to date neither level of government is willing to financially contribute to the industry-led initiative.
It is recognized that the SEMMA short course welding programme is something of a “disruptor”; in so far as it is outside the TAFE sector, the formal Australian Qualifications framework and does not result in a recognized certificate at the completion of the 150 hours of training. However, what it does offer is a skill set in an area of demand which can provide meaningful, full -time work and a career path for those wishing to pursue a career in the sector. At a more fundamental level it provides work for those currently unemployed and meaningful work is recognized as an important factor in mental health – an issue brought into stark relief during the constraints of the COVID pandemic.
In addition to the current welder shortages, one of the reasons we have commenced this process is a fear that the “Infrastructure Led Recovery” will pull welders from the manufacturing sector, much as the mines called welders away during the mining boom. We simply cannot wait for 3 years for TAFE to turn out a couple of hundred apprentices. We need a more creative solution and we believe that is what SEMMA’s proposal offers; it is the welding equivalent of a “shovel ready project” … even though it may well be viewed by some as a “disruptor”.